Physician dependence on electronic systems has never been greater than it is now. Wholesale adoption of the Electronic Health Record (EHR), the digitalization of diagnostic imaging (PACS), and the emergence of intra-clinical sharing via Health Information Exchange (HIE); these forces combine to amplify the importance of the Information Technology (IT) staff, vendors, and other technical players that support the practice of medicine.
And yet, in many practices, providers have an indirect relationship to the IT Team – probably appropriate in the clinical hierarchy and given the demanding nature of providers’ schedules – but potentially contributing to a gap in fulfillment of IT’s mandate to reduce barriers to provider-delivery of care.
IT players have taken steps to get closer to the practice of medicine – privacy practices, security rules, and a sensitivity to the criticality of clinical systems are among the orientation regimens for technologists stepping for the first time into the working clinic. But what steps can originate from the physician bullpen to draw IT closer as an ally?
Physicians might consider a few actionable steps to build an alliance with IT as a valued asset in delivery of care:
- Meet the IT staff – Before or after clinic hours, outside the rush of patient load, organize introductions between internal IT Staff or representatives of outsource IT vendors. This (temporarily) removes administrative buffers to physician/IT interchange, and can help IT understand provider perspectives on technology and the practice of medicine.
- Understand downstream IT vendors – The clinic relies not just on the people directly supporting the frontline, but myriad outside vendors – network carriers, EHR support groups, and specialists that focus on making the most expensive technology efficient. Taking time to allow the frontline staff to educate providers on other links in the chain lowers staff on IT – providers now understand (at least at a management level) the complexity that is clinical IT.
- If it doesn’t already exist as part of an outsource contract, have IT write a short Service Level Agreement – This is not a “gotcha” document but rather an explanation of what the clinic’s investment in IT is designed to produce in terms of uptime, performance, and reliability. Keeping it simple, it can be a discussion document that fosters candor in the trade-off between investment and system strength.
- Give IT an occasional seat at the table – IT staffers are usually several org-chart steps removed from physician leadership – and that doesn’t need to change. But occasionally offering IT staffers the opportunity to present to the Board, the medical management team, or a group of physician tech-champions (without filtering through administrative leadership) can foster additional accountability, speed needed innovation, and help identify emerging issues before they become long-term chronic problems.
Physician practices face enough IT challenges even without misalignment of motivation in the IT vendors and staff. Using the few simple co-opting tactics detailed above, physicians can align the efforts of important allies in clinical practice, and take one more step in positioning tech as a facilitator, rather than a barrier, to patient care.